Q: #580. How many times did prophets use a visual aid (or "prop") to "act out" a prophecy in the Bible?
A: The other day, as I was expositing chapter 21 in the Book of Acts, I came across these two verses:
(Acts 21:10-11)(NKJV) “And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. (11) When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ “”
In these verses, the prophet Agabus used a visual aid (or “prop”) (Paul’s belt) to “act out” a prophecy, prophesying that when Paul went to Jerusalem, he would be arrested, bound, and thrown into prison. Shortly after this prophecy was made, it was fulfilled.
The Bible is “filled” with these types of prophecies. As many good teachers know, when you are tying to teach a lesson, and you want your audience better understand it, and remember it, “acting out” the lesson using visual aid a (or “prop”) (a person, place, or thing) can help to do this.
SO, after reading about Agabus, I got to thinking: “How many other times in the Bible did a prophet use a “prop” to “act out” a prophecy like Agabus did, giving his audience a “visual picture” of something that was going to occur in the future?”
After trying numerous search terms to find studies that had been written on this, I found almost nothing. Therefore, perhaps this is one of the “first” studies on it!
In what follows, all I am doing is listing verses where a prophet used a “visual aid” (or “prop”) to “act out,” something that would happen in the future. (***Note: I am “not” listing “words” said, which prophesied future things, nor “things” created that symbolized something in the future [like the serpent on the pole: Num 21:4-9].)
Here we go!
(1 Kin 11:29-40) Ahijah the Shilonite tore a new garment into 12 pieces to symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel, and told Jeroboam to take 10 of the pieces as a prophecy that God would give him 10 of the tribes to be a king over.
(2 Kin 13:15-19) Elisha used a bow and arrows to prophecy the future of King Jehoash in his war against Syria.
(Isa 8:1-4) Isaiah was told by God to name his second son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (meaning “spoil speeds, prey hastens”) as a prophecy that the “king of Assyria” would invade and plunder Damascus and Samaria.
(Isa 20:2-6) Isaiah walked around naked for 3 years as a prophecy that the “king of Assyria” would take the Egyptians and Ethiopians as prisoners, and lead them away “naked and barefoot, with their buttocks uncovered.”
(Jer 13:1-13) Jeremiah bought a linen sash (picturing Israel), took it to the Euphrates River, buried it, and went back to get it “many days later.” Digging it up, it had rotted, and “was profitable for nothing.” Jeremiah did this as a prophecy that in the future, the once “profitable” Israelites would no longer be “profitable” (to God because of their rebellion against Him), and God would “ruin their pride.”
(Jer 18:1-12) A potter was making a vessel, but it became marred in his hand, so he shaped it into something else. Jeremiah used this as a prophecy that just as the potter took what was broken, and shaped it into something new, so God would take what was broken in the future (Israel after their captivity), and shape it into something new if they repented and turned back to Him.
(Jer 19:1-15) Jeremiah was to take an “earthen flask” and smash in front of the Israelites it as a prophecy that God would “break” them because of their rebellion against Him.
(Jer 27:1-22) Jeremiah was to “make yokes and bonds, and put them on his neck.” He did this as a prophecy that those who came under the “yoke and bondage” of King Nebuchadnezzar needed to submit to him, and those who did not would be destroyed.
(Jer 32:6-44) Jeremiah was told to “purchase a field” (ancestral land) just outside of Jerusalem that had already been conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He did this as a prophetic sign that God would restore the Israelites to their land in the future, as had been prophesied.
(Jer 43:8-13) Jeremiah was to “take large stones in (his) hand, and hide them in the site of the men of Judah, in the clay in the brick courtyard at the entrance to Pharaoh’s house in Tahpanhes.” He did this as a prophecy to show the place where Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon would establish his throne in Egypt after he conquered it.
(Jer 51:59-64) Jeremiah “wrote in a book all the evil that would come upon Babylon,” then he told Seraiah to go to Babylon, and read the words of the book. After he finished reading, he was to “tie a stone to (the book) and throw it out into the Euphrates.” He did this as a prophecy that “Babylon would sink, and not rise from the catastrophe” that God would bring upon it.
(Ezek 4:1-3) Ezekiel was to create an image of Jerusalem on a clay tablet, with siege objects coming against it, as a prophecy of Babylon coming against Jerusalem. In addition, he was to take an “iron plate” and set it up as an “iron wall” between himself and the city.
(Ezek 4:4-8) Ezekiel was to lie on his left side for 390 days, and on his right side for 40 days as a prophecy of how long Israel would be punished.
(Ezek 4:9-17) Ezekiel was to measure out small amounts of food to eat, and water to drink as a prophecy of a lack of food and water during the future siege by Babylon. He was also to use cow dung when making a fire to prepare his food, which would symbolize defiled food.
(Ezek 5:1-4) Ezekiel was to shave his head and beard, then divide the hair into 3 parts, as a prophecy of the 3 ways the Israelites would be treated while in Babylonian captivity.
(Ezek 12:3-7) Ezekiel was to pack up and carry out a few of his belongings from his house to another place, as a prophecy that when taken captive by the Babylonians, the Israelites would only be able to take a few of their belongings. Ezekiel was also to dig a hole in the city wall, and carry his belongings through as a prophecy that some of them would attempt to escape (but they would be caught).
(Ezek 12:17-20) Ezekiel was to eat his bread, and drink his water “with fear and trembling,” as a prophecy that in the future the Israelites would do the same.
(Ezek 21:6-7) Ezekiel was to “sigh” in the sight of the Israelites as a prophecy of how the people would react when they heard the news of Babylon coming.
(Ezek 21:18-24) Ezekiel was to “make a sign” and place it at the fork of a road, one direction which went to Rabbah, and the other which went to Judah, as a prophecy that the “king of Babylon” would arrive at the fork in the future, and use divination to determine which city he would attack.
***Note: In Ezekiel 24, the king of Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar) began his siege against Jerusalem (Ezek 24:1-2).
(Ezek 24:16-24) Ezekiel was told by God that his wife would die, and he was not to mourn her death as a prophecy that when the Israelites loved ones died in the future conquest, they would be unable to properly mourn.
(Ezek 37:15-28) Ezekiel was to take two sticks, and write on one, “For Judah and for the children of Israel, his companions,” and on the other stick write, “For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel, his companions.” Then he was to join the two sticks together as a prophecy that Israel and Judah would be united in the future.
(Hos 1:2, 3:1-5) Hosea (= God) was to marry a “harlot” (= Israel), as a picture of the marriage between God and Israel, and how God had remained faithful to them despite their constant unfaithfulness to Him (Israel had “committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord” – Hos 1:2). After being married to Hosea for a time, Gomer returned to prostitution. Hosea was told to go after her, and bring her back, as a prophecy that in the future, God would go after the Israelites, and bring them back once again (Hos 3:1-5).
(***Note: There are several other interpretations for these verses in Hosea.)
***Note: Hosea was also to give each of the 3 children he had with Gomer a name which prophesied something that would happen with Israel after they were conquered by the Babylonians.
(Zech 6:9-15) Zechariah was to make “an elaborate crown of silver and gold,” and set it on the head of the High Priest named Joshua. Afterwards, Zechariah was to speak some God-ordained words (which prophesied the future Messiah). This “elaborate crown” was to be left “for a memorial in the temple of the Lord.” It was created as a prophecy of the future King and High Priest who would be crowned: Jesus (the Messiah).
As you can see, I found 24 prophecies, which were acted out by 8 different prophets, using a visual aid (or “prop”). The most common theme among these prophecies is a “warning” of some kind that God gave to His people.
I am not an expert on interpreting prophecies in the Bible, but I gave the best “short” interpretation that I could. If you think of any prophecies that I missed (using the guidelines given), feel free to comment below and let me know.